Interview with Fred Salvucci, former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation, for Program Four: "The Big Dig"
Note: This transcript is from a videotaped interview for "The Big Dig" segment of "Great Projects." It has been edited lightly for readability.
Interviewer (INT): What are the first three words that jump into your mind when you hear the word "Boston"?
Fred Salvucci (FS): Great city. I like it.
INT: What do you like about it?
FS: Well, it's got all of these exciting assets within walking distance of each other. It's absolutely unique in the United States. We've got the capitol of the state, the finance center, essentially, of New England. We've got the North Station with the Bruins and the Celtics. You've got Fenway Park. You've got Harvard. You've got MIT. You've got Boston University. You've got the Mass General Hospital and all of these assets; you could walk from one to the other. I mean we have all of this intensity in a very concentrated area. Even other cities that that people compare to Boston sometimes don't, like San Francisco, which is a great city, [but] they don't have quite this concentration and residential neighborhoods the North End, the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, the South End really within walking distance. And I love where I live, out in Brighton -- it's accessible. Everything is inter-accessible. And you can get around. It's a nice place to walk, which is important.
INT: How long have you been living in Boston?
FS: Well, I was born in Boston, and the section of Boston I live in is in Brighton. I was born at the Mass General Hospital--I'm sorry--I was born at the Hospital out in New Brigham Circle but I've lived all of my life in the section of Boston called Brighton. My wife and I lived for a year in the North End, but most of my life has really been within six blocks of where I live now, in Brighton Center.
INT: You never felt the urge to leave and live somewhere else?
FS: Well, we lived for a year in Naples, which was great, we really enjoyed it, but I like Boston.
INT: Is it still a nice place to live or visit with all this construction going on?
FS: You see cranes everywhere. It's like they all got together for a coffee break. They're all talkin' to each other and to me … obviously, it's a particular moment in time, but it's really part of the history the city. This is a city that's been created by man, by humans. When the English first got here, most if it was underwater. A lot of the really great parts of the city, the Back Bay, the South End, parts of the North End, waterfront, were all underwater. Where I teach at MIT was under the Charles River a hundred years ago. So … Boston's a city that people have built. It's not quite like some of the Dutch cities, but it's close in terms of the intrinsic nature of major construction to making the city what it is. And certainly all the construction of the subways -- I mean, the first subway in the Western Hemisphere was begun between Park Street and Boylston Street and the intensive commuter rail network that links Boston to the whole region, those are all parts of what's made Boston what it is. And I find it exciting to see that continuing to happen with the cranes.
INT: Is there a simple way to explain the process of land-making?
FS: Yes well, Boston was initially, when the English settlers first came, a relatively small peninsula with three major hills connected by a very thin neck where Washington Street is now to the mainland. Everything else was tidal basins. You can kind of tell that by the names of the neighborhoods. The Back Bay, which is a wonderful area today, was a bay and that's why it got its name. So the physical nature of the city has been reclaimed with a huge amount of work from what had been tidal basins around the city. And a lot of the process of doing that was inherently linked to the transportation process. Some of the first railroads in the United States were built to haul in dirt from places like Needham to help fill what's now the South End and the Back Bay. So the introduction of rail technology was initially a construction tool and then the railroad became a way of people moving in and out of the city and really linking Boston to the hinterland, to the whole region. So the process of constructing the very land of this city has brought in technology, which then led to better transportation that allowed the city to continue to grow. So it's the cranes, to me, [that] are an exciting symbol of what's happening now, but they also, I think, relate to what's been happening here for 400 years.